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Instability, Authoritarianism Describe Current State of Turkmenistan

(Washington D.C.--May 26, 2006) The pace of instability within the Turkmen government is rapidly accelerating, said two Turkmen human rights activists. Farid Tuhbatullin and Vitaly Ponomarev told an RFE/RL audience in Washington today that the regime of Saparmurat Niyazov, the president of Turkmenistan, now resembles that of Joseph Stalin's Soviet Union.

Ponomarev, Director of the Central Asia Program of the Memorial Human Rights Center in Moscow, said that Niyazov has "purged" many of his long-time aides during his rule, in a way that can be compared to the Stalinist purges of 1936-37. One of Niyazov's recent victims, Ponomarev said, is recently-retired Prosecutor General Gurbanbibi Atajanova. Atajanova begged Niyazov for mercy on Turkmen television in April after confessing to a list of crimes, including stealing property and taking bribes. In contrast, Ponomarev said, Niyazov can be influenced by international pressure as demonstrated by the release of Gurbandurdy Durdykuliev, a Turkmen jailed by Niyazov for requesting permission to stage a peaceful political protest. Despite this success story, Ponomarev said that many prisoners remain unjustly interred in psychiatric facilities, including Kakabai Tedjenov, an open critic of Niyazov.

Tuhbatullin, director of the Vienna-based Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights, said that the lives of ordinary Turkmen citizens have been constrained by government repression. For example, Tuhbatullin cited a recently-passed pension reform bill, under which one third of all Turkmen pensioners, or roughly 100,000 people lost their pensions and another 200,000 had their retirement benefits cut by 20 percent. Turkmenistan's education system has deteriorated dramatically, Tuhbatullin said, to the point that elementary school students now must reference the "Rukhnama," the Niyazov-written "book of spirituality," while completing mathematics assignments. The country's 2005 immigration law also restricts freedom of movement into, out of and within Turkmenistan, according to Tuhbatullin, who urged the United States to impose sanctions on the regime.